Health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize says that South Africa and other African countries should prepare for the impact of a possible third wave of Covid-19 infections.
In a media briefing on Thursday (4 February), Mkhize said that there is a possibility that the third wave could be even more damaging than the previous two waves which have hit the country.
“What we have seen is that in most of the countries the second wave has come to be much heavier, fiercer, and cost more lives. It is also likely that we might face a third wave,” he said.
“There is no way of being able to prevent it (the third wave). Its impact will probably be more devastating.”
Mkhize said the use of vaccines will help create herd immunity, but this would take a long time due to scarcity. He chastised wealthier countries for vaccine ‘hoarding’, which prevents less fortunate countries from vaccinating their populations.
He said that only seven AU countries are able to self-finance their own vaccines, with the rest relying on global groups such as the World Health Organisation and the Covax vaccine initiative.
South Africa recently passed the peak of a second wave of Covid-19 infections, allowing government to relax restrictions in the country.
In a national address on Monday (1 February), President Cyril Ramaphosa said that the country has recorded its lowest daily increase in infections since December, and that the country has now passed the peaked of the second wave.
The average number of daily infections has almost halved, while the number of hospital admissions has also dropped, the president said.
While the indicators are pointing in the right direction, Ramaphosa said that that the number of transmissions in the country is still relatively high.
However, the president acknowledged that restrictions cannot continue for longer than necessary due to their harmful impact on the economy.
The president said that the country will achieve herd immunity once 67% of the population has been vaccinated. This amounts to around 40 million South Africans.
Nobody will be forced to take the vaccine or be forbidden from travelling anywhere or taking part in any activity if they have not been vaccinated, he said.
“We all want to be free of this disease. We all want to be safe, and for those we love to be safe. We aim to make the vaccine available to all adults living in South Africa, regardless of their citizenship or residence status,” the president said.